ANDREA DI BARTOLO
(b. 1360/70, Siena, d. 1428, Siena)
Madonna of Humility1380s
Tempera on panel, 28 x 17 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Andrea di Bartolo and his shop specialized in small devotional pictures like this one, which was owned and used for personal meditations by the woman (donor) whose tiny figure we see kneeling in prayer at the bottom of the panel.
The Virgin is dressed in gold brocade and is attended by angels in gestures of prayer and respect. From the flight of seraphim above, Christ blesses her and the child at her breast. Mary is honored here as the Queen of Heaven, yet she sits not on a throne but on a simple cushion on the ground. This type of representation, known as the Madonna of Humility, became quite popular after it was introduced in the 1340s, apparently by Simone Martini. Its symbolism may stem from the linguistic similarity between the Latin humilitas (humility) and humus (ground). Humility was held by church fathers as one of the greatest Christian virtues.
The reverse of the double-sided panel depicts the scene of the Crucifixion.